Toss your lettuce: Officials warn consumers to avoid eating all romaine

Caesar salad with romaine lettuce, Jan. 24, 2012 | Associated Press file photo by Matthew Mead, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Just in time for the Thanksgiving feast, health officials Tuesday warned people to avoid eating romaine lettuce because of a new E. coli outbreak.

A map shows where people were infected by an outbreak of E. coli that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said may have come from romaine lettuce, Nov. 19, 2018 | Map courtesy of CDC, St. George News

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it was working with officials in Canada on the outbreak, which has sickened 32 people in 11 states in the U.S. and 18 people in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

No deaths have been reported, but 13 of the people who became sick in the U.S. were hospitalized. The last reported illness was on Oct. 31.

As of Monday, 10 of the people infected with the E. coli outbreak were in California, while others were in states across the midwestern and northeastern areas of the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the following recommendations to consumers:

  • Do not eat any type of romaine lettuce and throw all of it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick.
  • Wash and sanitize shelves in refrigerators where romaine lettuce was stored.
  • Restaurants and retailers should not serve any romaine lettuce, including salads and salad mixes containing romaine.

According to the CDC, all types of romaine lettuce are affected, including whole heads of romaine, hearts of romaine, and bags and boxes of precut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine like baby romaine, spring mix or Caesar salad.

At this time, no common grower, supplier, distributor or brand of romaine lettuce has been identified as the source of the E. coli outbreak.

Tracing the source of contaminated lettuce can be difficult because it’s often repackaged by middlemen, said Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. That can mean the entire industry becomes implicated in outbreaks, even if not all products are contaminated.

Washing lettuce won’t ensure that contaminated lettuce is safe, Sorscher said.

The strain identified is different than the one linked to romaine earlier this year, but it appears similar to one linked to leafy greens last year.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says the agency didn’t have enough information to request that suppliers issue a recall, but he said supermarkets and restaurants should withdraw romaine products until the contamination can be identified.

Most E. coli bacteria are benign but some can cause illness, with symptoms including severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Most people recover within a week, but some illnesses can last longer and be more severe.

If you have symptoms of an E. coli infection, the CDC is recommending people to go to a health care provider, record what you ate in the last week and report your illness to the health department. The Southwest Utah Public Health Department can be reached at 435-673-3528.

This investigation into the outbreak is ongoing, and CDC will provide more information as it becomes available.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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